Last week, Lisa let you into the twisted caverns of her mind to give you some idea-generating help. Today it’s my turn. Since we use some of the same methods, I won’t rehash what’s already been said. Instead, I’ll give you some new ideas and maybe a few of them will be the ones that turn out to be perfect for you.
What’s Your Problem?
Last year I sold an article to In Touch (the magazine for Charles Stanley’s ministry) based on my struggle to forgive the drunk driver who killed my best friend. We all like to think that our problems are unique or that we have it rougher than anyone else, but the truth is that at any moment, someone else is going through what you’re going through. Bring a little good out of those struggles by using them to both further your career and help others.
A few guidelines before you start:
- Make sure you point out how your experience can help a wide audience of people. My article wasn’t meant to help only people who’d lost a loved one to a drunk driver; it was aimed at anyone who’d been deeply hurt and didn’t know how to forgive.
- Come out the other side before you try to write about it. This not only gives you more objectivity, but it also allows you to offer potential solutions to the problem.
- If it’s not a problem that you’re ever really “over,” find experts who can speak to how to deal with it long-term.
- List the people you’ll mention (both directly and indirectly), and ensure that you can write without hurting their feelings or their reputation. If you’re not certain, ask someone you trust, and get an unbiased pair of eyes to read the article once you finish. Even when you’ve done your best, people might get offended. You can’t always prevent that, but exercise due diligence in the process.
Take Scissors to Your Local Newspaper
Lisa mentioned that the biggest problems with getting ideas from the news are that they’ve already been written about and the market can quickly become saturated. You’re probably wondering how you can possibly get ahead of the wave or find news-worthy ideas that no one else has caught on to yet. It sounds like a lot of work.
I’m a big fan of working smarter, not harder. (I think of the old cartoon DuckTales every time I say that.) One thing I like to do is go through my local paper with a pair of scissors. I divide up what I gather into two piles. The first pile is for “experts” that I might be able to use in a future story. This week I found a Christian counselor who has a list of qualifications and specializes in suicide. I felt like someone gave me a giant, calorie-free chocolate bar.
The second pile is for ideas that currently have a local slant, but which I might be able to make national. For example, if a local church is hosting an event and you can find other churches or organizations across the country mobilizing for the same cause, you might just have a story.
And don’t forget to skim the letters to the editor. Some of it will be very specific to your town, but the rest of it will give you insights into what people are worried and wondering about.
A local story won’t be read by the same number of people as a national story, especially if you live in a small town of 10,000 as I do. Yet someone else has done the work of discovery. All that’s left for you to do is to make it your own and tune it to the Christian market (unless you want to write for secular magazines and then it’s even easier for you).
Anniversaries and Annual Events
Having recently finished an article on the three lessons we can learn from giving something up for Lent, one source of ideas that I couldn’t pass up suggesting to you is anniversaries and annual events. The Haiti articles that Lisa and I are working on are another example of where we’ve benefitted from keeping in mind milestones.
Timing is everything when you pitch an anniversary or annual event. If possible, you need to know how far in advance a publication assigns articles. Because ChristianWeek is a newspaper, for example, you can pitch a story with a month lead time, but a magazine like The Lookout wants queries no less than six months in advance. Unlike with other stories, these articles need to be published as close to the date as possible. If you query too late and they have that issue planned already, they can’t just slot your story into the next issue the way they might with a less time-sensitive idea.
That said, if you’re pitching an annual event, editors are always in need of a fresh take on something they’ve had to deal with every year. For anniversaries, focus on the big numbers (like one year, ten years, or fifty years), and be ready to show why that anniversary will interest the readers of that particular publication.
Have any other great ideas you’d like to share? Leave a comment.